A continuation. The first and second parts might be used as the prologue of a novel.
5The Last Relic: Part 2 by Levi Shipley
He came up to the stones, their color bleached by eons of sunlight. Where he stood was the rubble, the broken, fractured remains of what was once impeccable architecture. Moss and vines held dominion over the aged structure, likening it to a mere knoll, hiding it from the curious new world.
He paused before attempting to squeeze through the narrow shaft of an archway. Reaching into his deerskin sack, he felt carefully. Recognizing the cool, smooth surface, he retrieved a talisman his grandmother made for him before he could walk. It was small and made from the tip of an ox's horn. On its base was carved the name given to him by the village, Kyn, though now he went by Silas Concord. Tradition was that when a man found what he yearned for most, he would lay such a bauble down, thereby shedding his childhood. He thought on it. He was ready for the old ways to die, but he placed the trinket back into his pack for now.
Silas stepped over some loose pieces and entered the temple.
Not far inside the light diminished to nil. He rummaged through the pack, withdrawing some flint and a crude torch he had made from a deer's rib and fat. Getting it alight was not the convenient task he would have liked it to be, but his struggle ended in a working light source.
The temple was not spacious by design. It was a tight assembly of narrow corridors flanking small rooms. The walls were muraled, the ceilings blank, and the floors smooth. The interior had held up quite well over the years. A little dusting and some light, and it would be functional once again. However, he was not here to marvel at ancient architecture, to gawk at the fine craftsmanship and make useless remarks about its utility. Silas was here for the relic.
Despite the uniform pattern of the floor, he watched his steps. Something like this would not go unprotected, and it would be a real shame for his journey to end by a poison dart. Though, he thought, after all this time a poison would likely be inert. He smiled, knowing that dying from an infection would be times over worse.
Another hall, and this one greeted him with a flutter and the screech of disturbed bats. Their sound, the flurry of them, was a relief. The place was devoid of all noise otherwise, and silence had its menacing way of distorting one's thoughts.
Silas continued on, his feet coming softly to the floor with each step. The place was likely not filled with traps, he realized, as at one time devotees would file in and out of the temple in daily droves. The protection would have had two layers. The first being living guards, either of flesh or one of those ancient, primordial things which were composed of an element. With those long dead, the other security would be the worshippers' and observers' reverence. They would be too afraid of holy wrath or other such gobbledygook to do anything which may have been seen as desecration.
Still, he remained pragmatic, cautious as he rounded a corner some ways in. There he found a set of steps leading down. The moss did not reach this far, so the floor here was immaculate, and he felt cool air rising from below. A sense from inside, in his gut, began knotting around his core. He was on the doorstep, the threshold of what was allowed. He knew once he began down those steps, he would no longer be in public territory; he would be trespassing.
With a breath and a mental override of instincts, Silas descended the depths.
The air in the lower level was frigid, far colder than it had been outside. His breath he saw in the flame's whimsical glow, and his skin broke into gooseflesh. Down there the walls were coated in a network of crystalline frost, which shimmered gold and silver in his torch's arcing spectrum of light. He tightened and loosed his grip, his free hand close to his body, trying to keep the cold from penetrating and numbing. This cold was unnatural.
Silas kept on, traversing the winding stone halls. He steeled himself to silence, not wanting to be overpowered with the echoes of chattering teeth and quick breaths, and it hurt. Restraining his body's natural inclinations made the chill feel sharp. It dug into his sides, and despite the calm air, it bit his face. His lips receded, and he tried to draw warmth from the torch, but it seemed insulated somehow. It was as if he was not permitted to have the heat, that suffering was a trial, a penance, or perhaps a baptism.
A hum came to him in the resonant air. Low and steady, it thrummed, conducting itself through his feet and the ice which hung from the scruff of his beard. The sensation crept into his skin, using his blood to carry its rhythm. It was in his heartbeat now, gripping his life as an eagle clasps a hare. It measured him, examining its catch, but he pushed its talons.
"No," Silas whispered, focusing on his flame and tensing his muscles, "I am not yours, but you will be mine." He gritted his teeth, and it seemed he disturbed the pulse of what held him. His own returned. "I will not play slave." He marched on, knowing that to stop would make him vulnerable once again. It was necessary to speak this aloud and to walk the way he did. Otherwise it would sink deeper, take root, and he would be a puppet.
The labyrinth went on, snaking this way and that. He stayed close to one wall, following to dead ends and back, passing through ancient barren rooms, their purposes long forgotten. The hum still hung in the air, nigh tangible like spider's silk which one balks to walk through. It gave a life to the place, and he supposed in some way he was traversing the bowels of a stone beast. This was not right. The dead do not sing, and decay has its time before it passes. This was a life dormant, a slumbering behemoth which had its prey come unbidden, seeking its source of power. Silas kept the thoughts deep within. He did not want to rouse the sentience, to alert it before his dominance was secure.
The light in his hands eventually began to fade, and he lacked the fuel to keep it. Rational thought urged him to turn back, to return when he was better suited. However, primal thoughts, ones which ran below the bedrock of his soul, commanded him onward. To turn back now would be to invite in the power which hungered for him. It was as if he wore an armor of plate, but the sheets of steel covered only his front. Were he to expose his back, all his vulnerability would be ripe and ready for foes and predators. So, as the amber waned and the glistening walls dimmed to twinkling stars and then utter dark, he continued, feeling his way through the tenebrous chill.
At some point which may have been minutes, hours, or days, Silas detected a faint sight, a pinkish glow in some yonder galaxy. Time had been left behind him, though he was certain he ought to be dead with frozen appendages, gangrenous and with fever. Yet here he was, and he believed that the here was too deprived of all sense to be an afterlife. However, what he saw, what he believed to see in the soft light, much like that which graces the clouds some calm mornings, was worthy of such transcendence.
He walked toward it, heedless now of his steps, of what death might lurk in the shadows. Silas could not hear his steps any longer, nor could he feel the hard floor beneath. He was unaware now of the numbness of his digits, which slithered greedily up his hands. The ice in his beard rattled, and of this too he was oblivious. All the universe focused into one point before him, and all surroundings ceased, as did the space between.
Then he was up to it, within arm's reach. It was not the object he expected, some grand thing adorned with runes. It was a simple sphere of pure light, featureless and smaller than a mere apple. It rested silent upon a cupped pedestal of black glass, and this is where it belonged. He knew this, understood that for all his efforts and beliefs it would be a sin to disturb such a relic as this.
He reached into his sack, unable to feel the things inside, yet on the first try retrieved that sacred talisman made by a dear and departed woman. He held it to the light and reached with the other hand, grasping the catalyst in which rested awesome power he could not deserve. He placed the ox's horn in its stead, a cheap proxy, and deposited his new treasure where that had been.
Silas breathed a sigh of relief, and the cold seemed now not as harsh. He turned, still faced with absolute darkness, and with a step began his journey home. Then in one of those dark passageways, he smiled. He would need to learn how to use the relic.